Advanced animal society thrives without males

September 24, 2018

Termite colonies have been found to thrive and reproduce without males, new research from the University of Sydney reveals.

The findings provide new evidence that males aren't required to maintain some advanced animal populations. They add momentum to questions about the impact and function of males in animal societies.

It is well known that many hymenopteran insect species - which include bees and ants - are essentially all-female societies. But termites are from a different insect order and typically contain male and female reproductives and workers.

Population analysis by a team of researchers - including Professor Nathan Lo and postdoctoral researcher Dr Toshihisa Yoshiro from the University's School of Life and Environmental Sciences - has for the first time identified termite colonies that completely lack males.

Findings published in BMC Biology today showed six of 10 termite populations scrutinized by the researchers in Japan were entirely comprised of asexual females. Aside from a lack of males, the colonies' queens contained no sperm in their sperm storage organs and their eggs remained unfertilised. Furthermore, there was no significant difference in the hatching rate of these unfertilised eggs and that of fertilised eggs among mixed-sex termite populations.

All the populations studied were of the Glyptotermes nakajimai species based in Japan. This species typically inhabits forest areas and is not considered a pest.

"These results demonstrate males are not essential for the maintenance of animal societies in which they previously played an active social role," said Professor Lo.

The occasional development of unfertilised eggs in mixed-sex colonies suggests asexual female populations may have evolved from their mixed-sex counterparts.

Professor Lo says asexual reproduction could allow termites to successfully adapt to a range of new environments.

"All else being equal, asexual populations grow at twice the rate of sexual populations because only females are required to reproduce. This increased growth rate of colonies makes it easier for populations to entrench themselves in new environments."

While it is possible some of the 276 termite species in Australia, among the most primitive and ecologically diverse in the world, reproduce asexually further research is required to determine this, Dr Yashiro said.

Loss of males from mixed-sex societies in termites was co-written by researchers from the Laboratory of Insect Ecology at Kyoto University.

University of Sydney

Related Termites Articles from Brightsurf:

"Helper" ambrosia beetles share reproduction with their mother
A new study shows for the first time that Xyleborus affinis beetles are cooperative breeders, where females disperse to found new nests or stay to help their mother raise siblings, while also reproducing themselves.

Solving global challenges using insect research
IRD researchers and their partners have published a special issue in the Current Opinion in Insect Science journal.

Salute the venerable ensign wasp, killing cockroaches for 25 million years
An Oregon State University study has identified four new species of parasitic, cockroach-killing ensign wasps that became encased in tree resin 25 million years ago and were preserved as the resin fossilized into amber.

Daytime aardvark sightings are a sign of troubled times
New research by the team from Wits, with collaborators from the University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria, reveals what a shift from night-time to daytime activity means for the well-being of aardvarks in a warming and drying world.

Uncovering how endangered pangolins, or 'scaly anteaters,' digest food
The endangered Sunda pangolin, or 'scaly anteater,' is a widely trafficked mammal, prized in some cultures for its meat and scales.

In hunted rainforests, termites lose their dominance
Termite populations in African rainforests decline sharply when elephants and other large animals disappear.

Phylogenetic analysis forces rethink of termite evolution
Despite their important ecological role as decomposers, termites are often overlooked in research.

Hard-working termites crucial to forest, wetland ecosystems
Soil bedding increases microbial and termite decomposition activity

X-rays reveal termites' self-cooling, self-ventilating, self-draining skyscrapers
New insight into termites' architectural strategies could help us design more energy efficient self-sustaining buildings for humans.

Researchers get to the bottom of fairy circles
Fairy circles are round gaps in arid grassland that are distributed very uniformly over the landscape and only occur along the Namib Desert in southern Africa and in parts of Australia.

Read More: Termites News and Termites Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to